finds a variety of reactions to the question: "Are you going to vote in the upcoming presidential elections?"
"The government wants us to vote to help perpetuate the fantasy that the presidential elections are real," said Abdallah Hamed, a surgeon. "But it is hard to fool Egyptians."
Many others polled by Al-Ahram Weekly expressed similar sentiments. Thus while the government -- through its state-owned media -- is urging people to "participate in the voting process" so that their dreams can come true (as one TV commercial suggests), it will probably take much more than a few advertisements and newspaper articles to convince them.
"What elections?" scoffed an engineer who preferred to remain anonymous. "This is all a charade with each candidate orchestrated to play a certain role. The Wafd's Noaman Gomaa and the Ghad's Ayman Nour are playing the role of fierce competitors, while the rest are giving off a message that our country has a diverse range of parties."
Businessman Bushra Girguis offered a variation on that theory that was shared by several others. "The bargain is that if they play their assigned roles, they will be allowed to win a larger number of seats in parliament," when the November parliamentary elections come around.
Housewife Tahani Ahmed had another take. "The intended objective is obvious: even though there's a major show of democracy going on, President Hosni Mubarak is clearly being positioned as the best choice." A 46- year-old civil servant agreed, "that it is apparent that the media wants to portray the rest of the candidates as fools, and Mubarak as the only Egyptian capable of ruling us."
But that "strategy is backfiring", thinks Sayed Abdel-Hafez, a doctor, because other candidates are being allowed to expose the "mistakes" the ruling National Democratic Party has made over the past 24 years, which will "only strengthen the demand for real change."
In much the same vein, the elections are showing "that it may take time for Egyptians to wake up," said Awad Mursi, a teacher. According to Mursi, "there is something changing inside of them, and that day will eventually come."
That's why Elham Ahmed, an accountant, is determined to cast her vote. "Let's stop being passive -- everyone should vote if they really love this country," she said. "We should show the government that we are people with a will, and not people that can be stepped on -- even if we all choose Hosni Mubarak. "
An engineer was optimistic that in the end "the will of the people will win. Just look at Iran, where a long shot candidate ended up victorious because that's what the people wanted."
Others preferred to look at things in a more pragmatic manner, saying that even though the elections "may end up being serious, Mubarak will win whether we vote for him or not." Housewife Wafaa Mohamed and a few others said, "the results are already known -- Mubarak will win because he is really the only candidate."
For others, Mubarak's victory would have more to do with the "elections being rigged". A dentist asserted that there was no reason why these elections would be different from previous ones that featured very little transparency. "Even with so-called judicial supervision, it will still be rigged, either by forging the number of voters to prove that the turnout was high, or to make Mubarak win by an overwhelming vote," a lawyer said.
The concept of who would be allowed to vote in the first place was also generating quite a bit of debate. Most people were assuming that they had to have registered long ago to be eligible. When informed of reports that all voters might need is a valid national ID card, some said they would rethink their apathy towards going to the polls.
A large number of people were reluctant to talk about the elections with the Weekly at all, afraid they would get "in trouble" for voicing their true opinions. "There are police officers in civilian clothing everywhere," one person said. "They take the people who say anything anti-Mubarak away." Another said he has "heard that people who are not going to vote for Mubarak will be arrested."
Regardless of the potential voter turnout on 7 September, many are still hoping that the nation's first multi- candidate elections will be a "step in the right direction", and that next time, it "could be for real".